فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER Nine

Oftentimes, when children are in trouble, you will hear people say that it is all because of low self-esteem. “Low self-esteem” is a phrase which here describes children who do not think much of themselves. They might think that they are ugly, or boring, or unable to do anything correctly, or some combination of these things, and whether or not they are right, you can see why those sorts of feelings might lead one into trouble. In the vast majority of cases, however, getting into trouble has nothing to do with one’s self-esteem. It usually has much more to do with whatever is causing the trouble—a monster, a bus driver, a banana peel, killer bees, the school principal—than what you think of yourself.

And so it was as Violet and Sunny Baudelaire stared at Count Olaf—or, as the nameplate on his desk said, Shirley. Violet and Sunny had a very healthy amount of self-esteem. Violet knew she could do things correctly, because she had invented many devices that worked perfectly. Sunny knew she wasn’t boring, because her siblings always took an interest in what she had to say. And both Baudelaire sisters knew that they weren’t ugly, because they could see their pleasant facial features reflected back at them, in the middle of Count Olaf’s shiny, shiny eyes. But it did not matter that they thought these things, because they were trapped.

“Why, hello there, little girls,” Count Olaf said in a ridiculously high voice, as if he were really a receptionist named Shirley instead of an evil man after the Baudelaire fortune. “What are your names?”

“You know our names,” Violet said curtly, a word which here means “tired of Count Olaf’s nonsense.” “That wig and that lipstick don’t fool us any more than your pale-brown dress and sensible beige shoes. You’re Count Olaf.”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” Count Olaf said. “I’m Shirley. See this nameplate?”

“Fiti!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “That nameplate doesn’t prove anything, of course!”

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “You’re not Shirley just because you have a small piece of wood with your name on it.”

“I’ll tell you why I’m Shirley,” Count Olaf said. “I’m Shirley because I would like to be called Shirley, and it is impolite not to do so.”

“I don’t care if we’re impolite,” Violet said, “to such a disgusting person as yourself.”

Count Olaf shook his head. “But if you do something impolite to me,” he said, “then I might do something impolite to you, like for instance tearing your hair out with my bare hands.”

Violet and Sunny looked at Count Olaf’s hands. They noticed for the first time that he had grown his fingernails very long, and painted them bright pink as part of his disguise. The Baudelaire sisters looked at one another. Count Olaf’s nails looked very sharp indeed.

“O.K., Shirley,” Violet said. “You’ve been lurking around Paltryville since we arrived, haven’t you?”

Shirley lifted a hand to pat her wig into place. “Maybe,” she said, still in her foolish high voice.

“And you’ve been hiding out in the eye-shaped building this whole time, haven’t you?” Violet said.

Shirley batted her eyes, and Violet and Sunny noticed that beneath her one long eyebrow—another identifying mark of Count Olaf—she was wearing long false eyelashes. “Perhaps,” she said.

“And you’re in cahoots with Dr. Orwell!” Violet said, using a phrase which here means “working with, in order to capture the Baudelaire fortune.” “Aren’t you?”

“Possibly,” Shirley said, crossing her legs and revealing long white stockings imprinted with the pattern of an eye.

“Popinsh!” Sunny shrieked.

“Sunny means,” Violet said, “that Dr. Orwell hypnotized Klaus and caused that terrible accident, didn’t she?”

“Conceivably,” Shirley said.

“And he’s being hypnotized again, right now, isn’t he?” Violet asked.

“It’s within the bounds of the imagination,” Shirley said.

Violet and Sunny looked at one another, their hearts pounding. Violet took her sister’s hand and took a step backward, toward the door. “And now,” she said, “you’re going to try to whisk us away, aren’t you?”

“Of course not,” Shirley said. “I’m going to offer you a cookie, like a good little receptionist.”

“You’re not a receptionist!” Violet cried.

“I certainly am,” Shirley said. “I’m a poor receptionist who lives all by herself, and who wants very much to raise children of her own. Three children, in fact: a smartypants little girl, a hypnotized little boy, and a buck-toothed baby.”

“Well, you can’t raise us,” Violet said. “We’re already being raised by Sir.”

“Oh, he’ll hand you over to me soon enough,” Shirley said, her eyes shining brightly.

“Don’t be ab—” Violet said, but she stopped herself before she could say “surd.” She wanted to say “surd.” She wanted to say “Sir wouldn’t do a thing like that,” but inside she wasn’t so sure. Sir had already made the three Baudelaires sleep in one small bunk bed. He had already made them work in a lumbermill. And he had already only fed them gum for lunch. And as much as she wanted to believe that it was absurd to think that he would simply hand the Baudelaire orphans over to Shirley, Violet was not certain. She was only half sure, and so she stopped herself after half a word.

“Ab?” said a voice behind her. “What in the world does the word ‘ab’ mean?”

Violet and Sunny turned around and saw Dr. Orwell leading Klaus into the waiting room. He was wearing another new pair of glasses and was looking confused.

“Klaus!” Violet cried. “We were so worried ab—” She stopped herself before she could say “out” when she saw her brother’s expression. It was the same expression he’d had the previous night, when he finally came back from his first appointment with Dr. Orwell. Behind his newest pair of glasses, Klaus had wide, wide eyes, and a dazed and distant smile, as if his sisters were people he did not know so well.

“There you go again, with ‘ab,’” Dr. Orwell said. “Whatever in the world does it mean?”

“‘Ab’ isn’t a word, of course,” Shirley said. “Only a stupid person would say a word like ‘ab.’”

“They are stupid, aren’t they?” Dr. Orwell agreed, as though they were talking about the weather instead of insulting young children. “They must have very low self-esteem.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Dr. Orwell,” Shirley said.

“Call me Georgina,” the horrible optometrist replied, winking. “Now, girls, here is your brother. He’s a little tired after his appointment, but he’ll be fine by tomorrow morning. More than fine, in fact. Much more.” She turned and pointed at the door with her jeweled cane. “I believe you three know the way out.”

“I don’t,” Klaus said faintly. “I can’t remember coming in here.”

“That often happens after optometry appointments,” Dr. Orwell said smoothly. “Now run along, orphans.”

Violet took her brother by the hand and began to lead him out of the waiting room. “We’re really free to go?” she asked, not believing it for a moment.

“Of course,” Dr. Orwell said. “But I’m sure my receptionist and I will see you soon. After all, Klaus seems to have gotten very clumsy lately. He’s always causing accidents.”

“Roopish!” Sunny shrieked. She probably meant “They’re not accidents! They’re the results of hypnotism!” but the adults paid no attention. Dr. Orwell merely stepped out of the doorway and Shirley wiggled her pink fingers at them in a scrawny wave.

“Toodle-oo, orphans!” Shirley said. Klaus looked at Shirley and waved back as Violet and Sunny led him by the hand out of the waiting room.

“How could you wave to her?” Violet hissed to her brother, as they walked back down the hallway.

“She seems like a nice lady,” Klaus said, frowning. “I know I’ve met her somewhere before.”

“Ballywot!” Sunny shrieked, which undoubtedly meant “She’s Count Olaf in disguise!”

“If you say so,” Klaus said vaguely.

“Oh, Klaus,” Violet said miserably. “Sunny and I wasted time arguing with Shirley when we should have been rescuing you. You’ve been hypnotized again; I know it. Try to concentrate, Klaus. Try to remember what happened.”

“I broke my glasses,” Klaus said slowly, “and then we left the lumbermill.…I’m very tired, Veronica. Can I go to bed?”

“Violet,” Violet said. “My name is Violet, not Veronica.”

“I’m sorry,” Klaus said. “I’m just so tired.”

Violet opened the door of the building, and the three orphans stepped out onto the depressing street of Paltryville. Violet and Sunny stopped and remembered when they had first reached the lumbermill after getting off the train, and had seen the eye-shaped building. Their instincts had told them that the building was trouble, but the children had not listened to their instincts. They had listened to Mr. Poe.

“We’d better take him to the dormitory,” Violet said to Sunny. “I don’t know what else we can do with Klaus in this state. Then we should tell Sir what has happened. I hope he can help us.”

“Guree,” Sunny agreed glumly. The sisters led their brother through the wooden gates of the mill, and across the dirt-floored courtyard to the dormitory. It was almost suppertime, and when the children walked inside they could see the other employees sitting on their bunks and talking quietly among themselves.

“I see you’re back,” one of the workers said. “I’m surprised you can show your faces around here, after what you did to Phil.”

“Oh, come now,” Phil said, and the orphans turned to see him lying down on his bunk with his leg in a cast. “Klaus didn’t mean to do it, did you, Klaus?”

“Mean to do what?” Klaus asked quizzically, a word which here means “because he didn’t know that he caused the accident that hurt Phil’s leg.”

“Our brother is very tired,” Violet said quickly. “How are you feeling, Phil?”

“Oh, perfectly fine,” Phil said. “My leg hurts, but nothing else does. I’m really quite fortunate. But enough about me. There’s a memo that was left for you. Foreman Flacutono said it was very important.”

Phil handed Violet an envelope with the word “Baudelaires” typed on the front, just like the typed note of welcome the children had found on their first day at the mill. Inside the envelope was a note, which read as follows:

Memorandum

To: The Baudelaire Orphans

From: Sir

Subject: Today’s Accident

I have been informed that you caused an accident this morning at the mill that injured an employee and disrupted the day’s work.

Accidents are caused by bad workers, and bad workers are not tolerated at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. If you continue to cause accidents I will be forced to fire you and send you to live elsewhere. I have located a nice young lady who lives in town who would be happy to adopt three young children. Her name is Shirley and she works as a receptionist. If the three of you continue to be bad workers, I will place you under her care.

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